Here at Premier Succulents, we propagate most of what we sell. Growing our own plants allows us to carry a larger variety, and gives us the opportunity to sell different sizes as well. We also just get a ton of sheer joy out of making new plants! We know that many of you enjoy the propagation process as well, and have found for yourself how rewarding it can be to grow new plants from leaves, cuttings, or seed. Others of you are just starting out on your plant journey, and may need a little help figuring out the best way to propagate new plants. As always, we're here to help!
I've put together a handy guide to help you get started growing new succulents (and other plants) in your own home. This is a general guide, and may not work for some plants, but overall, you should be able to follow these instructions with great success. This will help if you've purchased our leaf box, tradescantia cutting box, mystery box, or unrooted succulent cutting box.
There are several ways to propagate new plants. Here, we'll cover leaf propagation, division of potted plants, and soil and water propagation for cuttings. Again, please keep in mind that this is general information, and may not work for all plants! It's always a good idea to research your particular plant to be sure you know the right way to care for it and keep it happy, and the right way to grow new ones!
This is a little long, and may take a while to get through, so grab a drink, turn down the lights, and get ready to make some babies! PLANT BABIES.
Dividing potted plants
- Water your plant well about an hour or two before repotting, if possible. This will help soften the soil, and any roots that might be clinging to the sides of the pot.
- Take firm hold of the plant in one hand, the pot in the other, and remove the plant from the pot.
- If necessary, or desired, you can roll the root ball (in or out of the nursery pot, if that's what it's in) on a hard surface to loosen it.
- If roots extend out of the bottom, and are too large to pull through the holes, you can either cut them off with sharp, sterile scissors, or cut or break the pot.
- Once it’s unpotted, inspect your plant to find the separate sections within the larger mass. Find the safest places to separate.
- Pull the plant apart where it makes the most sense (each plant is different, but for the most part, you’ll want to remove pieces that have their own established root systems.) Don’t be afraid to use a little force-sometimes you have to get rough to get them apart. Only the strong survive in my collection!
- Occasionally, it’s necessary to use a sharp knife (like a butcher knife) to cut through the root ball or crowns. In that case, you want to try to avoid cutting the center of a crown (where the leaves emerge from the plant). Sometimes it’s easiest to make a small “starter cut”, then pry the plant apart with your hands.
- Broken leaves may happen, it’s normal during the repotting process. New ones will grow in time! Don't panic! Depending on the plant, you can always stick the broken pieces back into the pot, or into their own propagation station. (See below!)
- Once you’ve separated the plant into as many pieces as you feel comfortable with, replant each piece into moist soil. Choose an appropriate soil mixture and container for each type of plant.
- Water immediately and well to remove any air pockets from around the roots. Once the water has settled, lightly tap the bottom of the pot on a hard surface, to settle the soil.
I'll get photos of this process the next time I divide something, which is a weekly thing around here!
Propagating succulents from leaves
- Gently remove the leaf from the stem, if necessary. Broken leaves rarely root, so be sure to get it just where it attaches to the stem.
- Lay leaves on dry soil in a shallow dish or tray and place in bright light. Allow a bit of space between each leaf, like the photo above. Once the babies start to grow, they'll need some room to spread out!
- DO NOT WATER. Withholding water encourages roots to form, as the leaf exhausts its stored energy. Watering can cause the leaves to rot before they are established.
- Roots will form from the base of the leaf, in most cases (some kalanchoe form babies along the outer leaf edges).
- Water lightly once roots have formed, and the new baby plant is well established. You’ll know it’s established when gentle upward tugging on the leaf doesn’t move it.
- You can leave your babies in the growing tray, as long as there's adequate soil to allow for a good root system and future growth, or you can move the new plants out of the growing tray once they're growing well.
- **Leaves can also be placed on any plate, tray, saucer, etc, with NO SOIL, until roots form, then transferred to soil. This helps remove the temptation to water them, and again, encourages new roots to form.
- **Succulents store water in their leaves. All the water and nutrients the baby plant needs are contained in the parent leaf.
- **Not all plants will grow new plants from just a leaf, but many succulents will. Houseplants and garden plants generally will NOT; for those you need stem cuttings with nodes. Plants, like people, have cells that are coded to do different things. The cells required to make roots AND make a new plant are not contained in most house and garden plants' leaves, only the stems. Your leaf might grow roots, but will probably never become a full plant. If it does manage to produce new growth, it will more than likely take years. However, anything is possible, so experiment all you want!
Except aloe. Please, for the love of plants, don't waste a perfectly good aloe leaf by trying to plant it, or even worse, sticking it in water. It won't grow, and will rot. Mushy, stinky aloe leaves are no fun to handle, take my word for it! If your aloe becomes a toy for your pet, and you end up with a broken leaf, just freeze it and use it for burns. The main plant will heal, and eventually produce offshoots, which you can divide as per the beginning of this post.
Propagating plants in water from cuttings
This is the best method for rooting most tradescantia varieties.
- Use rain water, unsoftened tap water, or bottled water – water that contains chlorine, softener salt, or other chemicals may adversely affect your cuttings.
- Glass bottles (any color), plastic bottles, candle jars, cups, test tubes, shot glasses, baby food jars---the list of items that can be used as propagation vessels is limited only by your imagination! Just be sure that your vessel is clean and sanitized, so no mold can form while you're waiting for roots. That last tiny bit of jelly in the jar could be the death of your precious new cutting!
- If possible, water your plant well the night before taking the cuttings, so they’re fully hydrated and energized and more able to support themselves. This isn't necessary, but it helps.
- Try to choose the healthiest pieces to propagate. You don't want to pick stems that are affected by fungus or a virus, or pests, and transfer the problem to your new plant.
- Use sharp, clean scissors so you don’t transfer bacteria or contaminants to your plants.
- Use fresh cuttings for propagation. If the cut end of your propagation piece is calloused from travel, slightly cut the end a bit before sticking it in water, so it’s able to take up water. Calloused, hard cuts won’t be able to “drink”, and will die.
- Prepare your propagation station, bottles, etc before taking your cuttings, if possible.
- Some plants grow woody stems as they age-for those, be sure to get fresh, soft, green tip cuttings. Woody stems generally don’t root well, if at all.
- Remove any leaves that will be under water. They will rot if allowed to stay, and kill your cutting.
- Place stem in water, covering at least one leaf node.
- Place in a bright, sunny location and wait patiently for roots to form.
- Change the water often, and add water as needed to maintain your original water level.
- Plant in soil once roots have formed. The earlier you plant it, the faster it will take root in the soil. The roots that will form in water will be thinner and weaker than roots that form in soil (water doesn’t provide any resistance, so the roots don’t have to be strong; soil provides resistance, and makes strong roots)
- Some plants can live indefinitely in water, but will need constant fertilizing to remain healthy and happy.
Propagating plants in soil from cuttings
- The steps I've listed above for taking cuttings also apply for soil propagation.
- Some succulents need to callous (the cut end needs to dry up a little) before they can be planted, or they tend to rot. Sansevieria in particular should be allowed to callous before planting, if you're using leaf cuttings. Generally speaking, though, if your soil drains well and doesn't stay wet for too long, you can stick your succulent cuttings into soil immediately after taking them.
- Prepare your soil in small pots, such as plug trays, annual flower 4 or 6 packs, egg cartons (poke drain holes first!), small cups, etc. The smaller the pot, the more quickly your plant will root and be ready for it's larger home among your collection. Recycling small containers for propagation is a great way to help the environment!
- Moisten the soil so cuttings stick well. Dry soil won’t hold them up.
- Remove the lowest leaves that may stick down into the soil.
- Stick your cutting into the soil. You’ll want to cover at least one leaf node, if possible, so roots begin to form under the soil. In any case, the roots will find their way to where they need to be-plants are pretty amazing. :)
- Place your cuttings in very bright, indirect sunlight.
- Allow the soil to get mostly dry between watering, but not completely and totally bone dry. Lack of water encourages roots, and too much water will quickly lead to stem rot and a loss of your cutting. This is where many people struggle with soil propagation. Some of us love our plants.....to death, by overwatering, and it can be hard to curb that instinct with cuttings. Remember that they don't have any way of actually using most of the water you're giving them, and also that they're tougher than we think!
- When necessary, mist the cuttings at soil level, or bottom water if possible, but lightly. You want to encourage deep root growth, not shallow growth. Deep roots help hold up heavy plants! Shallow roots can cause your plant to fall over or lift out of the soil.
- After 2 weeks or so, gently tug on the plant. When you feel resistance, you have roots.
- Transplant into a larger container once roots begin to outgrow the starter pot. Soil propagation is our preferred method for almost all plants, for many reasons. Roots that start in soil are thicker and stronger than roots that start in water, and more able to support your plant.
Wait, there are other ways to propagate?
- Some tropical plants, especially aroids like philodendrons, root much better in sphagnum moss in humid conditions. For those, I like to wrap the stem in damp moss and wrap the moss in plastic wrap or stick it into a plastic bag, held tightly closed by a small rubber band. That creates a small greenhouse effect inside the plastic, and encourages good root growth. Keep it in a warm, bright place, just like any other propagation technique, and add a little water if you notice there's no condensation on the sides of the bag. You'll be able to monitor your cutting's progress, while allowing it to produce a healthy root system in a more ideal environment.
So there you have it, the basics of plant propagation. It's a good idea to keep your plants in a warm location-cooler temperatures may slow the plant's growth, and cause your cuttings to root slowly or not at all. Pick a sunny window, preferably one that faces south or east, make sure it's not too drafty, and let your cuttings grow!
I hope this helps you with your new babies! If you ever need assistance with growing techniques, feel free to send us a message. We're always happy to help!